Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Trek to Makarandgad

I take this opportunity to pen down my thoughts for the first time on an online platform. Though I’ve been “micro-blogging” on Twitter for more than a year now, this is my maiden comprehensive blog.

Last weekend i.e. on the 9th & 10th of April 2011, we set off for a trek cum trip to Mahabaleshwar & Makarandgad a.k.a. Madhumakarandgad. The trekking part dominated the outing as we hardly got any time to spend in Mahabaleshwar.   There were 11 of us, with the fairer sex just outnumbering the gentlemen.
I’ve been trekking/hiking for a few years now (five to be precise) but this trek happened after a gap of almost a year. No wonder there was going to be some huffing & puffing during the ascent. We planned the trek just a few days before it happened, which is the case normally.  Ironically, the treks/trips which we plan well in advance fail to materialise more often than not. One of my friends, also an avid trekker, finalised the location while just casually browsing on the internet.

FYI, Makarandgad lies in Satara district, in the Sahyadri mountain ranges of Maharashtra. One of the known forts which falls in the vicinity is Pratapgad. The base villages at Makarandgad are Hatlot & Chaturbet, which fall on the opposite sides of the fort. The route you can take is Pune/Mumbai – Mahabaleshwar-Chaturbet or Pune/Mumbai–Mahabaleshwar–Hatlot. The journey takes its toll on the people travelling from Mumbai as the distance is much longer. Although Hatlot is nearer to the fort as compared to Chaturbet, there is only one ST bus scheduled to travel from Mahabaleshwar to Hatlot, that too early in the morning which is a bit inconvenient. Hence, our best bet was to approach the climb through Chaturbet.

We started our journey from Shivajinagar in Pune at 8 o clock on Saturday morning. There were nine of us from Pune & two from Mumbai. The Mumbai people started a couple of hours earlier from Borivali. We(Pune people) were planning to reach Mahabaleshwar by 11 o clock but reached at around 12.30 pm instead, thanks to the Schumacheresque driving skills shown by our bus driver coupled with the vehicle which seemed to be built in prehistoric times. Mumbai people suffered a similar fate on their journey. They reached Mahabaleshwar by 13:30 hrs.

We had a quick lunch at Mahabaleshwar along with some delicious strawberry with cream & boarded the 14:30 bus for Chaturbet. It was a red ST bus, popularly known as “Lal Dabba”. We were surprised to see all the seats firmly in place. However, unlike the urban ST drivers, considering the road & the vehicle conditions, I rate the drivers of the “Lal Dabba” in rural India as the best in the world. They can give Sebastian Vettel a run for his money. We got off the bus at the “outskirts” of Chaturbet.

The walk to the village was a couple of kms. Earlier, while surfing Google Maps, we were able to see small water bodies to be existing around the village. Water bodies were present, but too far from the village to be reached by foot, thus ending our hopes of taking a nice dip in the backwaters. The summer heat had left all the ponds in the village waterless. There was a potable water source at a temple in the village. We had to use water very wisely as the next water source was just a few metres from the top at another village called Ghonaspur.

We started the ascent at around 17:00 hrs. There were two routes, one through the jungle & one via the vehicular road. We took the former as it was shorter & protected us from the sun. We were only half way through the climb & I was already a bit enervated. One of the climbers was a first timer. He must be cursing us all the time during the ascent. Midway through the ascent, we had lost our way a bit. A villager helped us out with the right route. With the help of a few stops, we reached the temple which is located just above the village of Ghonaspur & just below the fort. It was 21:00 hrs. We had taken a good long four hours for a two & half hour climb. Luckily, there was a 24x7 water tap at the village where we refilled all of our bottles. We had not been so lucky in the earlier treks as far as potable water was concerned.  

Tired souls midway through the ascent
The temple at the top was a blissful place to stay as compared to the dwelling places we had seen on the treks before. It not only had electricity, but plug points as well, a pleasant surprise. As soon as we reached, we dropped our backpacks, got the food out & consumed whatever we could set our sights on. Post dinner, all of us were having a good time enjoying the lovely breeze outside. We played cards for a while after which, half of the group went to sleep. The rest of us decided to spend more quality time by cooking delicious soup & maggi. The sight of the stars in the night was refreshing. Later, the rest of us headed inside to catch some sleep.

Enjoying the Soup!

The entire group with Makarandgad fort in the background
The next morning, we had to catch a 10 o clock bus at the same base village i.e. Chaturbet. Thus, we planned to start the descent at around 7 o clock. We started 45 mins late though. This time, we took the vehicular road with two of them taking the jungle route. Though the route was a little longer, we reached the village in time for the bus & headed for Mahabaleshwar in a similar world class “Lal Dabba” as mentioned above. Another quick lunch & strawberry delicacies at Mahabaleshwar & we headed to our respective homes viz. Pune & Mumbai.